Few voices in music have resonated as powerfully as Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul. With a remarkable four-octave vocal range and an unmistakable emotive style rooted in gospel music, she has inspired countless artists to follow her path.
In this blog post, we pay tribute by exploring 13 amazing singers like Aretha. The soulful sounds of these women reflect the Soul Queen’s lasting influence on rhythm and blues, gospel music, Motown masterpieces, and beyond. Without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Etta James
Born in 1938, Etta James began singing at a young age, receiving vocal training from a church choir’s musical directors. During her teens, she met the musician Johnny Otis, who gave her the opportunity she needed to be in the spotlight.
She soon released her first hit song, “The Wallflower,” which topped the US R&B chart and stayed there for four weeks. With this, people were introduced to her powerhouse vocals and rhythm and blues style, reminiscent of Aretha Franklin’s. But James did not stop there.
In 1960, she released her first studio album, At Last! Its title track, a cover of Glenn Miller’s song of the same name, is one of her greatest works and a musical standard.
For over five decades, James continued her career, adding 30 studio albums and 58 singles to her repertoire. Both songs mentioned above received Grammy Hall of Fame awards, and in 2003, James herself received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
2. Gladys Knight
Fans of Aretha Franklin will most likely also be fans of the Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight. The legendary singer with an unmistakable voice has captivated audiences since 1948 with her soulful rhythm and blues music.
Gladys boasts an impressive career in soul music, particularly during her time at Motown with her band, Gladys Knight and the Pips. She and her iconic group played a significant role in shaping the evolution of soul music. With them, she released classic albums such as Imagination, and I Feel a Song.
In 1988, Gladys began another illustrious career in music as a solo artist, during which she released several charting hits like “That’s What Friends Are For” (with Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Dionne Warwick) and “Licence to Kill.”
Though Gladys went on a farewell tour in 2009, she continued to sing, record, and play gigs for fans to enjoy. Now 79 and still going strong in her career, she is truly a talented force to be reckoned with.
3. Diana Ross
You cannot go wrong in saying Diana Ross is similar to Aretha Franklin. This Motown legend hit it big as The Supreme’s lead singer during the 1950s and ’60s. With numerous chart-topping hits, like “Where Did Our Love Go” and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Ross and her fellow members solidified their place in music history.
In 1970, Ross started a solo career, and under the guidance of mentor Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, it soared to new heights. Some unforgettable songs she released are “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that year and “Upside Down” ten years later.
Ross has inspired countless individuals with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence throughout her illustrious singing career, which has lasted over five decades and continues to this day.
As both a solo artist and a member of The Supremes, Ross received two Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2012 and 2023 (respectively), and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
4. Tina Turner
The Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner, cannot be forgotten on this list. Though Turner’s sound is less bluesy and gospel-inspired than Aretha Franklin’s, many of her songs are a blend of R&B and soul, giving off the same vibe as Franklin.
Turner’s musical journey began with her then-husband Ike Turner from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. After their split, she went on a very successful solo career, having a breakthrough with the 1984 album Private Dancer.
The album contains her greatest hit, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” which topped charts around the world, including the US, Canada, and Australia. It also won two Grammys: Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Over the years, Turner has made her way up the ladder of success through hard work and determination. Today, she is among the greatest female singers of all time, along with other iconic artists like Joni Mitchell, Adele, Lady Gaga, and more.
5. Whitney Houston
With a nickname like The Voice, Whitney Houston certainly lived up to it. She rose to fame in the 1980s with multi-Platinum hits like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” and “How Will I Know.”
But it was during the 1990s that Houston shined bright, particularly with the song “I Will Always Love You” in 1992. Along with the numerous awards it received, it won the Grammy Record of the Year in 1994.
Sadly, Houston passed away in 2012 due to accidental drowning. Nevertheless, this legend’s legacy in music is undeniable. Her influence can be heard in countless singers today, from Mariah Carey to Beyoncé and many more!
It’s worth noting that Houston had a close relationship with Aretha Franklin herself. Franklin was Houston’s honorary aunt, and they shared an extraordinary bond filled with love and admiration for each other’s talents.
6. Natalie Cole
As the daughter of the jazz legend Nat King Cole, it was no surprise that Natalie Cole also became a music icon in her own right. With her musical upbringing, she honed her craft by listening to iconic artists like Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin.
Rising to fame in the mid-1970s, Cole gave us the Grammy-winning hits “This Will Be” and “Sophisticated Lady.” The first song came from her debut album, Inseparable, and the second from her sophomore album, Natalie.
Cole continued throughout the 1980s with many charting hits, and in 1991, she and her father recorded a duet that is as unforgettable as its name, “Unforgettable.” This song won the Grammy Record of the Year, and its album, Unforgettable…with Love, received Album of the Year.
Though Natalie Cole is no longer with us, having passed away in 2015, her legacy as a talented artist continues in the hearts of music lovers worldwide.
7. Mavis Staples
Our next singer is Mavis Staples, who became known during her time with The Staple Singers, the family band. Her silky smooth voice, powerful performances, and gospel-inspired tunes have earned her accolades in the music industry since her start in 1950.
Her solo career, which commenced in 1969, was as successful as her time with the band. Her eighth album, You Are Not Alone, released in 2010, is particularly notable. It topped the Top Gospel Albums chart and won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album.
Over the years, Staples collaborated several times with Aretha Franklin, like in the 1987 gospel hit “Oh Happy Day.” The song became an instant hit and has since become a gospel standard.
8. Ann Peebles
Influenced by Aretha Franklin and other R&B performers, singer-songwriter Ann Peebles ventured into a music career in the mid-1960s singing in clubs.
Then in the 1970s, she gained widespread recognition for her Memphis soul albums. Her 1973 song “I Can’t Stand the Rain” is particularly notable, becoming her signature song. She followed this up with several more successful albums, like Tellin’ It and If This Is Heaven.
After a break at the end of the decade, Peebles returned in 1989 and continued recording and performing until her retirement in 2012 due to a stroke. Despite this, Peebles’ impact remains significant, as her soulful voice and timeless songs continue to inspire listeners.
9. Roberta Flack
After rising to fame in the late 1960s with her chart-topping debut album, First Take, Flack was unstoppable. Many of her succeeding albums charted high, cementing her position as one of the most accomplished and influential singers of her time.
Then in 1972, her single “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won a Grammy Record of the Year. Flack won another Record of the Year in 1973 with “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” becoming the first artist to win the award for two years in a row.
For her works, she was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Award in 2020. Just recently, however, Flack retired from the musical spotlight due to health issues, but her legacy endures.
10. Esther Phillips
Texan singer Esther Phillips was best known for her soulful R&B vocals. She rose to prominence in the 1950s and ’60s, alongside Aretha Franklin, with several chart-topping songs, like “Double Crossing Blues,” “Cupid’s Boogie,” and “Release Me.”
While she achieved great success throughout her career, her notable achievements were when she received Grammy nominations for Best R&B Vocal Performance for the songs “Set Me Free,” “From a Whisper to a Scream,” “Alone Again (Naturally),” and “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.”
Sadly, Phillips did not have a very long career. She passed away in 1984 due to kidney and liver failure. She was only 48.
11. Ella Fitzgerald
The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, is also known as the Queen of Jazz, and her legendary discography shows why. With an impressive career that spanned nearly 60 years, she recorded more than 200 albums. Her impact on the music industry is comparable to that of Aretha Franklin.
Fitzgerald’s career took off in the 1930s when she won a singing competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. She then joined the Chick Webb Orchestra, where she gained recognition for her scat singing.
In the 1940s, Fitzgerald began her solo career. Her collaborations with other jazz artists, like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, further solidified her status as a jazz icon.
Though Ella Fitzgerald passed away in 1996, she remains a legend and a beacon of excellence in the world of music. Her music continues to inspire listeners and influence musicians of today.
12. Patti LaBelle
Godmother of Soul Patti LaBelle gained prominence in the 1960s as the frontwoman of her group Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. After going solo in the late 1970s, she had her breakthrough in the album I’m in Love Again in 1983. It contains her first chart-topping hit, “If Only You Knew.”
Three years later, she collaborated with R&B singer Michael McDonald for her most successful song, “On My Own.” It took the top spot on charts in over five countries, including the US and Canada.
In addition to being a talented singer, LaBelle is also known for her magnetic personality, both onstage and off. She performed alongside fellow divas Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight at the Women of Soul concert series—a testament to her status as one of soul music’s greatest performers.
13. Lorraine Ellison
Though soul singer Lorraine Ellison is last on our list, she is by no means the least. She began her career in the early 1960s as part of The Ellison Singers, a family group that included her sister, brother, and cousins.
In the mid-1960s, she signed with Mercury Records; but after an unsuccessful stint with them, she moved to Warner Bros. Records, which proved to be a turning point for her.
With the release of the song “Stay with Me,” Ellison finally rose to fame. Following this, she went on a successful career that lasted until 1976, when ill health forced her to retire from music.
Summing Up Our List Of Singers Like Aretha Franklin
There you have it, dear readers, some of the greatest singers who, like Aretha Franklin, have changed music through their soulful R&B music. Their contributions, unique in their own way, have influenced many listeners, young and old.
We hope that you enjoyed this list and have perhaps found a new favorite singer to add to your playlist. However, this is far from complete. Let us know who we might have missed, and we’ll add them for you!